November  25, 2022

Two members of the Global Change Center’s Restoration Ecology Working Group recently presented at the Rappahannock River Symposium held last month on Oct. 19th in Fredericksburg, VA. The Symposium was hosted by the Rappahannock River Roundtable, an organization that describes itself as, “a strategic partnership of stakeholders dedicated to land and water conservation, community outreach and education, and capacity building throughout the entire Rappahannock River Watershed.”

Caleb O’Brien, IGC IGEP Fellow and Dr. Jessica Taylor, Assistant Professor in the History Department gave a talk called "Inclusive Ecological Restoration in the Rappahannock River Watershed: Developing a research agenda.”  O’Brien and Taylor shared their findings from a pilot project designed to elicit and compare perspectives on environmental issues and research priorities in the Rappahannock River Watershed among different groups, with an aim of developing an inclusive research agenda for ecological restoration in the watershed.

Caleb O'Brien presents his research at the Rappahannock River Symposium October 19, 2022.

Bill, Sydney, & Mathias
Caleb O'Brien presents his research at the Rappahannock River Symposium October 19, 2022.

Through surveys with 100+ watershed residents and semi-structured interviews with a subset of survey respondents, the Restoration Ecology Working Group sought to understand people's priorities and how those priorities comport and differ across demographic groups and levels of expertise. They found that, while there were clear priorities for ecological restoration and research focal areas, there were also significant differences among groups. Most interestingly to O’Brien, results indicated that more marginalized groups generally prioritized research questions and environmental issues that encompassed elements of human health and the social-ecological-system that is the Rappahannock River Watershed, while more privileged groups appeared to have narrower more ecosystem focused priorities. 

This research project was undertaken by the Restoration Ecology Working Group (REWG), which is an interdisciplinary team of faculty and students supported by the Global Change Center at Virginia Tech teaching and researching about the most effective and equitable strategies for restoring biodiversity and environmental quality locally, regionally, and globally. O’Brien and Taylor’s presentation at the symposium covered REWG’s first collective research effort, which started in 2021 and was a GCC-funded pilot study that created a watershed-scale model for developing a community-inclusive, equitable restoration ecology research agenda. This project (now in manuscript stage) has demonstrated REWG’s potential to answer interdisciplinary research questions at spatial scales relevant to the global restoration movement. 

Photos provided by Carleigh Starkston, Friends of the Rappahannock